Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Hogan fastens his seatbelt for a CAP reform rollercoaster

Downing on politics

Phil Hogan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Phil Hogan. Photo: Damien Eagers
John Downing

John Downing

For some of us, EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, is still "the new man in Brussels". But the reality is that he is near to the half-way mark in his five-year term which ends in November 2019.

Later this month he will open consultations which will begin the process of framing a much changed CAP after the current regime expires in 2020. It is already likely that farmers who break farm safety rules will risk losing their EU grants in that new, post-2020 regime.

Mr Hogan told the Farming Independent he was reluctantly coming to this given the large toll of deaths from farm accidents in 2016. He said the rate of serious workplace accidents was reducing in Ireland and across the EU - but no such progress was happening in farming, where 21 people were killed in Ireland in 2016. Farming has just 6pc of the Irish workforce but last year accounted for 50pc of workplace deaths.

He acknowledged progress was being made via two EU-backed schemes, ie TAMS2 and the Green Cert, especially for young farmers.

"But we have to do more in the light of the recent accidents and heart-breaking tragedies which have hit so many farm families."

The Commissioner said farmers can already lose grant money if they breach pollution control rules or other issues like animal welfare. He said it is time to consider including farm safety in the so-called "cross compliance" regime to help preserve human life.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has revealed that 21 people died in farm accidents in 2016. It was down from a record high of 30 fatalities in 2014 but an increase of the 2015 death toll of 18. HAS chief executive, Martin O'Halloran, welcomed the commissioner's comments.

Commissioner Hogan said these proposed changes will form part of those exploratory talks on a new farm price regime which will apply until after 2020. These talks will be dominated by the ongoing Brexit negotiation which are due to open at the end of March and take two years.

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Britain is a major net contributor and the EU's farm post-2020 budget will be without €7bn to €9bn per year in London contributions. He predicted the reform talks will be difficult and he hoped they would include a move to a farm income insurance scheme for farmers and less funds for major producers.

In talk reminiscent of another Irish commissioner, Ray MacSharry, in the period 1989-1992, there is a view in some Brussels quarters that really big producers should no longer get EU income supports post-2020. The commissioner himself said the aim was to complete matters before European Parliament elections in May 2019 and the end of the current commission's term.

As he approaches the midway point in his five-year term, would he like another five-year term?

"A lot depends on who the Irish Prime Minister will be at that time. So, I suppose I will come to that conclusion in 2019," he replies, drawing a comparison with a similar decision facing Irish President, Michael D Higgins.

Cold comfort it may be. But the commissioner also said British farmers face an uncertain future - especially those in the North where 87pc of farm incomes come from EU payments. Now, anyway you look at it, that kind of money will not be replaced by London.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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